The Catholic University of America

Charting a Course for Participation in Mission
John Cardinal Dearden Lecture
The Catholic University of America
Washington, DC
Tuesday, March 20, 2001

His Eminence
Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles

By way of beginning, allow me to express my gratitude to Father David O'Connell, C.M., President of the University, and to Father Stephen Happel, Dean of the School of Religious Studies, for the invitation to give this year's Dearden Lecture. I am particularly delighted to be with you this evening for two reasons. First, I am an alumnus of The Catholic University's National Catholic School of Social Service, and take great pleasure in returning to my alma mater. And, second, it is a distinct honor to give a lecture which bears the name of Cardinal John Dearden, a distinguished churchman of the twentieth century, who worked tirelessly for the renewal of the Church prompted by the Second Vatican Council. It is in the same spirit of ongoing conciliar renewal that I offer my remarks this evening.

My focus will be the Pastoral Letter on Ministry, As I Have Done for You, jointly written by myself and the priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and released on Holy Thursday in the Year of the Great Jubilee. The extraordinary reception which the Pastoral has received throughout the United States and well beyond is something of a surprise to me, since there is really nothing new in the letter. It simply takes the orientations of the Second Vatican Council seriously, calling for a more participatory understanding of Church and a more inclusive and collaborative approach to ministry. What is new, as far as I am aware, is that it is the first Pastoral Letter jointly authored, and jointly published, by a bishop together with his priests.

This evening I will move in four steps. First, I would like to provide you with the background of As I Have Done for You, and offer a brief synopsis of its contents. Second, since I am on the hallowed grounds of the National Catholic School of Social Service, I shall draw on some sociological findings and bring them into conversation with the Pastoral Letter's vision of the future of the Church. Third, I shall look at the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Synod, convoked in the closing paragraphs of the Pastoral Letter and now underway, as the best means for charting a course for fuller participation in mission. Fourth, and finally, I shall offer some reflections on how the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, scheduled for dedication in early September 2002 is an icon, or image, of a renewed and renewing Church.

I. As I Have Done for You: Origins and Orientations

Aware of the many changes affecting the life of the Church, the priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles assembled in October 1997, together with our Regional Bishops and myself. Our purpose was to explore together the nature of the ordained priesthood in light of the challenges we now face.

Well aware of the fact that the number of priests is declining and their average age rising, the priests nonetheless expressed great hope because the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese is increasing and the gifts of the lay faithful have been flourishing in unprecedented numbers and in wondrous ways. There was also a sharp awareness and a growing appreciation of Los Angeles as a truly multicultural Church. As the priests of the Archdiocese continue to explore different understandings of ministry, there has been a deepening awareness that even as we are faced with a shortage of priestly and religious vocations, we are being invited to a deeper understanding of the nature of the Christian vocation, and a fuller appreciation of the nature of ministry both ordained and nonordained. There was and there remains a strong conviction that the Holy Spirit is leading us toward new horizons.

The Pastoral Letter does not chart out a course for dealing with the "vocation crisis," but is, we believe, a Spirit-assisted response to the deepening awareness that it is in the very nature of the Church to be endowed with many gifts, ministries, and offices. Consequently, mere adjustment and small shifts in practice will not do. What is called for is a reorientation in our thinking about ministry as well as in our ministerial practice.

In the course of the Priests' Assembly it was decided that the priests and their Archbishop would together write a Pastoral Letter on Ministry, articulating a clear vision of ministries, ordained and nonordained, and inviting local communities to begin to plan for the future of ministry in the Archdiocese. An early draft was published in English and in Spanish in our Archdiocesan Catholic newspaper, with a request for feedback from individuals, parishes, and other groups in the Archdiocese. The responses were carefully considered in the writing process. The title of the Pastoral Letter expresses the conviction that all ministry in the Church is rooted in Christ the Servant.

The Letter opens with a portrait of Saint Leo's in Los Angeles, 1955. It is a mythical parish, in that we have no Saint Leo's in Los Angeles. But the description would hold true for almost all of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1955, and I suspect in other dioceses across the country as well:

The pastoral work of the parish was sacramental, educational, and devotional.

The pastor of twenty-two years was assisted by two full-time assistant priests.

Priests from different Religious Orders came on Saturdays to help hear confessions, and to help with the Sunday Masses.

A large group of Sisters staffed the school, filled to overflowing with children of the parish.

Most nights of the week were given to devotions, often followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Lay people involved in the parish-as organist, member of the choir or Altar Society-were volunteers. A few received a modest stipend for their services.

The spiritual needs of parishioners were fairly routine, relegated to Saturday Confession and Sunday Mass for most.

Otherwise, the parish was there when needed: for Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, Marriage, and funeral Masses.

Priests responded to the normal family emergencies: illness, accident, and death.

Since Mass and the sacraments were celebrated in Latin, the ethnic makeup of the parish did not count for all that much. It was assumed that, in 1955, most everyone at Saint Leo's spoke English.

The pastoral life of the parish was simple and fairly routine, and the spiritual needs of the parishioners were met in accord with the schedule of services offered.

Saint Leo's 2005 is then described in contrast to Saint Leo's 1955. By all accounts, the description will hold true for many of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2005. We anticipate that the number of Catholics will grow by at least one million every five years into the foreseeable future. Even now, in 2001, Mass is celebrated every Sunday in over fifty languages and dialects in parishes all across Southern California. There are still some whose roots are European, but there are larger numbers from Asia and Africa, while the majority has roots in Mexico and Latin America.

In Saint Leo's 2005, there are over five thousand Catholic households.

There is a pastor fluent in English and Spanish, a pastoral associate who is a Vietnamese mother of two small children, and an elderly deacon who is fluent in Spanish but who struggles with English.

There is a large staff, including but not limited to a business manager, a DRE, a Director of Worship, a lay school principal. All are paid positions.

A neighboring priest comes to celebrate Mass in Vietnamese on Saturday evening; another comes on Sundays for the Korean Mass.

The pastor of Saint Leo's also goes to neighboring parishes when his services are needed.

Most evenings are given to meetings of one sort or another.

The Pastoral Council meets in rotation with the heads of various groups in the parish: catechists, young adult ministers, and hospital visitors, to name a few.

Twenty-five small ecclesial communities spread across the blocks of the parish meet throughout the week to reflect on the Gospel of the coming Sunday.

These small groups gathered to ponder the Gospel message strengthen the parishioners in an awareness of the mission of Saint Leo's parish: to be an evangelizing community, impelled by the Word and Spirit, to be a light to the nations, a sign of hope in an age of strife and division.

When they gather on Sunday for worship, the people of Saint Leo's have already been washed in the Word all week long.

Gathered faithfully together, they celebrate what they are called to be - the Body of Christ in this time and place - and receive strength for the journey in the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The pastoral life of Saint Leo's, LA, 2005, is anything but simple and routine, and the spiritual needs of the parishioners cannot be met according to the schedule of services provided in 1955-or even in the year 2001.

At the heart of As I Have Done for You is a theology of Church and of ministry that rests on the primacy of baptism as that sacrament which incorporates us into the Body of Christ. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptized each have their proper share in the one priesthood of Christ. The Letter affirms the crucial, necessary and irreducible nature of the ordained ministry. But it does this within the context of the Church as the community of the baptized. All vocations and ministries are understood in light of the centrality of baptism.

All Christians are configured to Christ through baptism, for that is the sacrament by which we are incorporated into the Church, participate in Christ's death and resurrection, and assume the name "Christian." All Christians are called to a life of discipleship and are to extend his work and presence in the world today. All share in the one same vocation-to be the Body of Christ, building up the Kingdom of God through witness, worship, and service.

The baptized are called to share in the Church's mission through mutual service, through a life of worship, and through witness to the Gospel by holiness of life. The manner and degree of engagement in this common call differ, depending on the gifts and ministries given by the Spirit. Most laypersons are called to transform the world by living out their baptismal vocation amidst the pressing demands of marriage, family, school and workplace.

The baptized also witness to the light and love of Christ through all forms of prophetic speech, teaching, catechesis, and participation in the Church's evangelical mission, sometimes being sent from home and country as heralds of the Good News in other lands.

The baptized worship God through full, conscious and active participation in the Sunday Liturgy, through the proclamation of the Word in word and in deed, through the liturgical ministries of lector, musician, or eucharistic minister, through the many other ministries that serve to animate the community gathered for prayer.

The baptized serve God through administration, feeding the hungry, caring for the needs of the sick, working for justice, washing the feet of the homeless, safeguarding and protecting the rights of the last, the littlest, and the least, giving the Body and Blood of Christ to those gathered at the Table of the Lord, and bringing this Holy Communion to those who are sick at home or in hospital. In all these ways and more, the gifts of the Christian people are being shared for the greater glory of God in a community of faith, hope, and love whose members together become a living doxology-alive for the praise and glory of God.

Whatever the vocation or ministry, ordained or nonordained, each and every one is an expression of the threefold mission of every baptized Christian: witness, worship, and service, a participation in the threefold office of Christ prophet, priest, and king.

In this context, priestly identity can only be discerned within priestly relationships-with Christ, with the priestly People of God, with the bishop and other priests. The purpose of priestly ordination is to call forth and serve the priesthood of the whole Church, the entire Body. The ordained priesthood is not only a ministry for the Church on behalf of Christ, but it is also a ministry done with a priestly people (Lumen gentium 10).

In understanding properly the ministry of the ordained priest, what must be underlined is the gift of presiding over the life of a community and its prayer. The priest must know how to evangelize, to catechize, to preach, to pray, to celebrate, to discern but, above all, he must know how to draw all the baptized together into communion and mutual service.

The sacramental life of the Church is centered on the Eucharist, whose celebration is to reflect the many gifts and roles exercised in the Church community. The priest exercises his unique ministry by calling all the faithful to its celebration, by affirming their baptismal call within it, and by centering the life of the community around Christ in memory and in hope, through the gift of the one Spirit given to all the baptized.

While the Pastoral Letter spells out a precise understanding of ministries ordained and nonordained, its primary purpose is to be a tool, a mechanism, for reshaping the ministerial structures of the Local Church in a way that is both more collaborative and attentive to the diversity of cultures which make up the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A significant portion of the Letter is devoted to concrete exercises for small groups, for parishes, to plan concretely to meet the changing needs of the Church as Saint Leo's 2005 becomes more and more a daily reality in our midst. The exercises are arranged to move persons and groups through a process of observing, understanding and judging, deciding and acting so that we can move together toward the future with vigor and joy. It is my firm conviction that if we do not move forward toward this vision of the Church, we will fail to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Seeking, in various ways, to reconfigure the exercise of ministry at Saint Leo's 1955 is certainly not the path to the future.

All across the continents a broadly based, shared ministry has been awakened in the Church by the Second Vatican Council and the developments which followed. Now we see with greater clarity that the Church is endowed with many gifts and ministries and offices. Today we recognize more clearly the role of the laity and the requirement to exercise all ministries in a more communal and collaborative fashion. All of these developments are signs of God's enduring love and care for the Church, and all are invitations to renewed and deeper faith in the Spirit's guidance, and to an ever-widening hope for a future as yet unknown.


Saint Leo's 1955 and 2005 express two very different visions of the Church. In one, "the people" come to get their needs met by the few. In the other, all bring their gifts in service of the common good.

From a sociological perspective, the recent work of Roger Sanjek, The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City is quite instructive. 1 He writes:

"The United States is in the midst of a great transition. In less than one hundred years Americans of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry will outnumber those of European origin. According to one demographic projection, by 2080 the population of whites will fall from its present 74 percent to 50 percent, and the rest of the U.S. population will be 23 percent Latin American, 15 percent black, and 12 percent Asian. The great transition among America's children will arrive even sooner. By the year 2035 only 49 percent of children under eighteen will be white." 2

Sanjek's perspective is helpful in gaining insight into what our future in this country will be unless we move toward greater inclusivity and collaboration. At the heart of his work, there are two visions of the future set in juxtaposition. He looks to the Elmhurst-Corona district of Queens during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, as through a window on America's great transition. In Sanjek's telling, Elmhurst-Corona has successfully brought together a variety of cultures, races, and voices in a body politic in which all perspectives are represented, and in which all people work together to find common ground in working for a common good. Though many factors were at play in the success of Elmhurst-Corona, the district's religious communities played a key role. I am intrigued that in Corona there is a real Saint Leo's Catholic Church, and by the fact that one of the most important contributions of the religious communities to the success of Elmhurst-Corona has been their rituals of inclusivity. Our future, as a nation and as a Church, lies in moving along the trajectory of Elmhurst-Corona, together with this real Saint Leo's and its kind of ritual life.

The alternative is clear, according to Sanjek:

"Suppose the worst. In 2080 the all-white fortunate fifth is ensconced in gated suburbs and edge cities. Its schools, police, health-care and recreation facilities, and transportation and communication links are all private. Taxes everywhere are a pittance. For the rest of the population-now 37 percent white, 29 percent Latin American, 19 percent black, and 15 percent Asian-public schools, hospitals, parks, sanitation services, and mass transit barely function. Most wages permit only minimal subsistence. Crime and underground economy sustain enormous numbers, and the few police officers and government inspectors do not interfere. Government statistics on income, poverty, and race are neither published nor collected. The era of big government is over. 'Individual choice' and 'the market' reign. People live in a 'color-blind' society." 3

In Sanjek's work we are confronted with two very different visions of our future: one "color-full," the "other color-blind." The latter is nothing other than neo-Apartheid. What is the role of the Church, all of us, in shaping one or another of Sanjek's visions? The mission in which we are called to participate in our baptism, the mission of Christ and Spirit, the mission of the Church, is to advance the Reign of God. Is it not in the nature of the Church not only to be endowed with many gifts, ministries and offices, but also to live creatively amidst the diversity of all God's people who are-member for member-the Body of Christ? This is precisely what I have in mind when speaking of participation in the mission of Christ and Spirit: to prepare for the coming of the kingdom by working for a world of communion and justice, a world of rightly-ordered relationships rooted in equality, reciprocity, interdependence, creating a world in which all might grow, especially the wounded and the weak, the last, the littlest, the least.

Because of our great diversity, Los Angeles is a privileged place to give shape to such a "color-full" world, with the parish of Saint Leo's 2005 at its heart, expressing the nature of the Church as a locus for all people to live together in all diversity.


All of us on the Pastoral Letter committee learned many things in the course of our writing. One of the most startling realizations was that the next big gathering called for was not another priests' assembly, which was already in the planning stages for October 2001, but rather a gathering of members of the whole People of God: clergy, religious, and laity. Indeed to go ahead with the priests' assembly would, in significant ways, fly in the face of the message of the Pastoral Letter, and would not help us in charting a course for fuller participation in the mission of the Church, a more inclusive and collaborative approach to ministry.

What was called for is an Archdiocesan Synod. We are now in full swing, with a Director of the Synod, a Synod Steering Body, and a Synod Preparatory Commission. Given the size of our Archdiocese, much of the Synod process will take place at the level of our five Pastoral Regions, allowing for greater participation at the grass roots.

From its root, the term "synod" conveys a sense of "coming together." It also conveys the sense of being active, of moving forward together. A Synod is an occasion, an event, a privileged moment in the life of the Local Church. For most of us, we will be part of one and only one Synod in our lifetime. We are coming together in a Synod to do something together as a Local Church. The Synod is an opportunity to be Church more fully and to serve the locality in which the Church is situated.

A Synod plays a role in the life of a Local Church very similar to the way the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal in the Church at large. The Synod will recommend specific pastoral directives aimed at the renewal of the local Church in keeping with the vision of the Pastoral Letter, As I Have Done for You, a vision suited to challenges we face at the opening of the third millennium. These pastoral directives, once approved, become particular law in the Archdiocese. And so, the Synod process will affect one and all.

The principal aim of the Synod is not restructuring or reorganizing, or introducing new and more effective programs. It is rather more an opportunity for prayer, dialogue, discernment, and decision.

The Synod of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is an exercise of the Local Church in listening to the Spirit; and in moving forward with a deeper sense of active participation in the mission of Christ and the Spirit-to render Christ concrete in the world, to give flesh to the magnitude of God's love in our own time and place.

We are greatly encouraged in our efforts by the recent Apostolic Letter of our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, entitled Novo Millennio Ineunte. All who are working for renewal at the local level should be heartened by his words. Speaking of the "program" for the Third Millennium, the Holy Father affirms the "pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community. . . It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified . . .which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture . . . I therefore earnestly exhort the Pastors of particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God's People, confidently to plan the stages of the journey ahead, harmonizing the choices of each diocesan community with those of neighboring Churches and of the universal Church." 4 A Synod may be understood as an exercise in the communio so central to the nature of the Church, and to the thought of the Holy Father in this Apostolic Letter and elsewhere. As each Local Church becomes more vital, the whole Church moves forward in hope.

This is our aim: renewal of the Church and concrete planning for the future, to meet the changing needs of this Church, and to better meet the needs of the human family in this locale. And in so doing, to strengthen the Church Catholic.


It is our hope that the Synod will draw to a close in September of 2003 at a joyous liturgical celebration in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, during which the Synod Documents will be signed. This is most fitting since the new Cathedral is an icon or an image of the Church renewed. It is a house for the Church of Los Angeles, with room enough for all of us in our great diversity.

The Cathedral is an eschatological symbol, evocative of the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation, chapter four, as well as of the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem in Revelation, chapters twenty-one and twenty-two. The Cathedral is not simply the principal place for the Local Church to gather as the Body of Christ, though it may be that first and foremost. The Cathedral is to be transformative of the whole city - a catalyst for moving in the direction of Sanjek's "color-full" society, giving flesh to the vision of Saint Leo's 2005. True, the Cathedral may transform by bringing new life and energy to the inner city. But far more importantly, the Cathedral is transformative of the whole city and its people by reminding them, inspiring them, and evoking from them a deep awareness of what a city is to be. The Cathedral is a symbol of our future, calling all who see it and dwell in it to the realization of all that is good and noble in the humanum, inviting all to the fulfillment of the human capacity for the true, the good, the beautiful.

The Cathedral is not only the center of the life and prayer of the Local Church, but also a symbol evocative of the deepest aspirations and hopes of the whole polis, the whole people of Los Angeles, the earthly city yearning for consummation, the completion yet to come in the new Jerusalem. The Church is meant to be a light for all nations as we are reminded in Lumen gentium and, in this process, the Cathedral must take the lead. In Los Angeles, the new Cathedral will be a resource and a symbol of pride and commitment, not only for Roman Catholics, but also for all Angelinos. What better way to serve the city, the good of the polis as a whole, than to make available for all a symbol, an icon, of what we are to be and become together?

When the Church is understood as a community responding to God's invitation to live amidst all diversity, then the Cathedral is understood as the setting for a jewel. The jewel is the People of God who come together in all diversity, bringing their abundant gifts for the service of the common good.

The Cathedral building, no matter how modest, is to evoke the hopes of a people; to call forth the desire for all that is noble in the human spirit. The Cathedral-precisely as a place, a physical focus, a sacramental resource, a sign lifted for all peoples-is a prophetic structure that signals the Church's ongoing commitment to the city as a living icon of how all people share in the life and goodness of a world created and blessed by God.

This eschatological symbol is most effective when it is enlivened by the Spirit, moving like a mighty wind through the hearts of the People of God who gather for worship within its walls. It is not only the building that functions as an eschatological symbol. It is preeminently the life of worship of the People of God that allows the symbol to sing of the new heaven, new earth, the New Jerusalem. The symbol functions to the degree that the Cathedral is a house for the Church, the Body of Christ called forth to full stature in its life of prayer and worship.

We are at our roots when the People of God gather faithfully together with their bishop, his presbyters, deacons, and other ministers. Gathered by Word and Sacrament as the one Body of Christ, we are amidst the real presence of the Apostolic Church here and now. The Spirit evokes the Apostolic Church not by bringing us into the past, but by wedding the past to the faith and life of this community, by enlivening the charisms and enabling their flourishing in a way that marked the early Church at prayer.

It is the mark of the Church as "catholic" that should be expressed most boldly in the liturgical life of the Cathedral. Our unity is outreaching, embracing, and inclusive. To the degree that we allow for the full range of ministries to flourish in the liturgical life of the Cathedral we thereby become a more effective sign of catholicity and unity in the world. To the degree that we respond to the call to unity, communion, and reconciliation in the liturgy and ministry of the Cathedral, we become a more effective sacrament of unity and reconciliation which we claim to be-an eschatological symbol of the new Jerusalem bearing fruit now in the heart of the city. At the heart of the Cathedral is the gathering of a people, into one, in all diversity. The people of the whole city and environs should be invited, welcomed, embraced. But only if the commitment to welcome, inclusivity, and the embrace of diversity is expressed in a commitment to build a world of communion and justice beyond the Table of the Lord, can the Cathedral and its liturgy be credible as the eschatological symbol, the building for the future of us all. For while the Cathedral is a place to which people come for prayer and worship, it is also, and just as much, the place from which we are sent forth to be and to build the new Jerusalem in our midst.

The Cathedral is to be a place, a space, of openness and light. Its walls and its liturgy are porous. For there are no longer two cities-the City of God and the City of the Human Family. But one city gathered in this place. And sent forth from it. In worshiping in this place, we prepare for the coming of the Day of the Lord, the time and place of a new heaven and a new earth.

The Cathedral as eschatological symbol calls us to fidelity to our vocation as a Christian people: to be a sacrament of the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, in our own time and place. This is what is at the heart of the renewal Cardinal John Dearden worked tirelessly to implement. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we are continuing in the spirit of the conciliar renewal through the release of As I Have Done for You, the Archdiocesan Synod, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, an icon of a renewed and renewing Church. At the core of our ongoing renewal is this key insight: God is best glorified when the greatest number of people participate to the fullest degree possible in the mission of Christ and Spirit through witness, worship, and service. This requires recognizing the primacy of baptism as the sacrament which grounds all ministry in the Church, and the common ground on which we must move forward together in preparing for the coming of the Day of the Lord, when Christ will be all in all.


Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Sanjek, 1. As a basis for these projections, see Leon Bouvier and Robert Gardner, Immigration to the U.S.: The Unfinished Story. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 1986: 27; William O'Hare, America's Minorities - The Demographics of Diversity. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau 1992: 18; see also William Frey, "The New Geography of Population Shifts," in Reynolds Farley, ed. State of the Union: America in the 1990s, vol. 2. New York: Russell Sage, 1995: 283. A 1996 Census Bureau study projects that whites will constitute just 53 percent of the population in 2050 (New York Times 3/14/96).

Sanjek, 385. He adds: This or some other future will arrive primarily because of internal power alignments in the United States. "None of the important constraints on American economic and social policy come from abroad," writes Paul Krugman. "We have the resources to take far better care of our poor and unlucky than we do; if our policies have become increasingly mean-spirited, that is a political choice, not something imposed on us by anonymous forces. We cannot evade responsibility for our actions by claiming that global markets made us do it" (New York Times 2/13/97).

John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, January 6, 2001, no. 29.